COMPILED FROM WIRE
AND STAFF REPORTS
Republican organizations near and far quickly washed their hands of a company that was paid millions of dollars for a major get-out-the-vote effort in seven swing states, after Florida prosecutors launched an investigation into possible fraud in voter registration forms.
On Wednesday, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) launched a formal criminal investigation into the activities of Strategic Allied Consulting, a Virginia-based company hired by the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) to register voters in preparation for the November elections.
An FDLE spokeswoman said the agency received a complaint Sept. 28 from the Florida Department of State and has since found enough evidence to warrant a full-blown probe. Suspect voter registration forms have shown up in at least Florida 10 counties, including Palm Beach – where more than 100 were discovered.
Submitting false voter registration information is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
Almost $4 million
Working through state parties, the Republican National Committee (RNC) has sent more than $3.1 million this year to Strategic Allied Consulting, a company formed in June by Nathan Sproul, an Arizona political consultant. Lincoln Strategy Group, another Sproul company, was paid about $70,000 by the Mitt Romney campaign during the primaries to gather signatures.
In North Carolina, Colorado and Virginia – all swing states where Strategic Allied Consulting had been awarded lucrative contracts to register voters – the state Republican Party cut ties with the firm after learning of the issues in Florida.
It’s not yet clear if the firm has been involved in similar voter registration irregularities in states besides Florida. Elections officials in North Carolina and Colorado said Friday there haven’t been any reported problems.
Strategic Allied Consulting was the only vendor the RNC hired to register voters.
Sproul is a fixture in Arizona Republican politics, a former head of the Arizona Christian Coalition and a veteran of a number of GOP campaigns. For three years, he was executive director of the state party.
Sproul has operated other companies that have been accused in past elections of improprieties designed to help Republican candidates, including dumping registration forms filled out by Democrats.
In 2004, a company Sproul started was paid millions by Republicans to register voters. Employees in Oregon, Nevada, West Virginia and Pennsylvania alleged they were told to register only Republicans. One worker in Las Vegas said he watched a supervisor tear up Democratic registrations.
The Department of Justice launched an investigation, but it did not lead to any charges. But the long record of allegations has made Sproul a lightning rod in political circles.
Both the RPOF and the RNC severed ties with the company after allegations arose last week that registrations were improperly gathered.
Palm Beach first
Palm Beach County flagged 106 registration forms that had signature irregularities or incorrect information for voters already on file, such as new dates of birth and faulty Social Security numbers.
Some of the forms in question attempted to change a voter’s address but violated state law by using business locations.
Unauthorized changes of address could present problems when voters show up to cast ballots.
Florida voters used to be able to change or correct their addresses at the polls. But under a recent change in the state’s election law, voters whose registration is in a different county from the polling place must use provisional ballots – which are much less likely to be counted.
“If they’re changing the addresses out of county, it is potentially disenfranchisement,” said Daniel A. Smith, professor of election law at the University of Florida.
Other counties affected
After problems in Palm Beach County emerged, Florida counties from Miami to the Panhandle reported similar irregularities with voter registration forms that all tracked back to the Republican Party of Florida.
Last week, the RPOF made the unusual move of filing an election fraud complaint against Strategic Allied Consulting. While it led the charge to impose strict new regulations on outside groups that register new voters, the state party now claims it is the victim of fraud by a company that until two weeks ago was its highest paid vendor.
Caught by their law
The ability of officials to track back registration applications to their source is an ironic twist to an election year that has been dominated by talk of voter fraud.
Republicans in the Florida Legislature, inspired by successful Democratic registration drives by groups like ACORN that they likened to fraud, pushed through a controversial and sweeping elections law during the 2011 session.
The law, House Bill 1355, required third-party organizations to register with the state and created a database that would help track new registration forms back to the group that submitted them. The bill also limited the amount of days that can be used for early voting, required people who change their addresses at the polls to use provisional ballots, and required third-party groups to turn in registration forms within 48 hours or face hefty fines.
Republicans argued the bill was needed to reduce voter fraud, even though there was scant evidence of any in Florida.
A host of lawsuits were filed in response to the new elections law, although most of the provisions have been upheld. One that didn’t stick: the 48-hour registration requirement.
‘No way to know’
It’s because of the law that Florida supervisors of elections know instantly if a voter registration form was turned in by a third-party organization and, if so, which one.
“Before that law, there would be no way to know where these voter registrations were coming from,” Cate said.
Requests task force
Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch released a letter Monday to Republican Gov. Rick Scott asking him to appoint a bipartisan task force to investigate.
“We have a governor who has led this crusade against illusionary voter fraud for months in an effort to suppress the vote and kick eligible voters off the rolls,” Deutch said. “Now when he’s confronted with real voter fraud with major implications on the outcome of this election, he’s missing in action.”
In a statement, Scott noted that the company has been fired and its forms turned over to law enforcement: “We have zero tolerance for any illegal voting activity in Florida.”
Matea Gold, Melanie Mason, Franco Ordonez and Joseph Tanfani of the Tribune Washington Bureau; John Lantigua of the Palm Beach Post; and Michael Van Sickler, Tia Mitchell and Toluse Olorunnipa of the Miami Herald (MCT) all contributed to this report.